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The “No” Campaign

The Coalition for a Healthy California chose “Stop Philip Morris” as its campaign theme. Polls dating back to 1978 had consistently shown that the tobacco industry had very low credibility among voters.[114][113][114] For example, a 1982 poll prepared for the Tobacco Institute as part of its effort to defeat a tobacco control initiative in Bakersfield revealed that “knowledge of tobacco company [opposition to a measure] does move a significant number of respondents into the `yes' column.”[113] The Coalition concluded that simply educating the voters about the tobacco industry's involvement with Proposition 188 would convince them to vote “no.”

By mid-September, the formal No on 188 campaign was launched. The ALA and ACS were actively working together, with Martin sharing the CHC chair with ACS volunteer Gaylord Walker. The Coalition held press conferences around the state, and press events aimed at informing the public that Philip Morris was behind the initiative. Following the press conferences, the tobacco industry received telephone calls from

media in only San Francisco and Sacramento and considered the extremely quiet press “good news.”[115]

Despite strong grassroots support for its position, the Coalition was having difficulty raising money to counter the tobacco industry's direct mail campaign. Knowledgeable observers—who knew Philip Morris was behind the campaign—could not believe that the voters would support Proposition 188 after several years of anti-tobacco public education funded by Proposition 99. According to Nicholl, Proposition 188 “was viewed as such an extreme and aggressive tactic by the tobacco industry that it couldn't possibly win.”[116]

Philip Morris's strategy, however, was working. The independent Field Institute California Poll in mid-July had shown the initiative ahead: 52 percent for, 38 against.[117] By mid-September, polls conducted by the Field Institute and the Los Angeles Times showed that voters were evenly divided.[118][119] Proposition 188 had a good chance of passing.

Media attention is generally attracted by controversy, and reporters usually seek to represent both sides of an issue. The tobacco industry was so committed to staying out of the public eye that CSSR had an unlisted telephone number and actively avoided journalists and public debates.[120][121] For example, when the League of Women Voters scheduled a debate to be broadcast in the Bay Area (the second-largest media market in California), CSSR refused to send a representative. Unable to take a formal position opposing the initiative due to its bylaws (which required equal consideration of both sides before taking a position on an initiative), the league canceled the debate.[122] When the Senate Health Committee and the Assembly Governmental Organizations Committee held the public hearing required by law to present issues raised by Proposition 188, CSSR refused to participate.[123] By shunning the spotlight, CSSR successfully minimized controversy over Proposition 188, clearly part of Stitzenberger's stealth strategy. The strategy allowed Philip Morris to control the message through direct mail advertising while denying the opposing camp the free forum that would have accompanied media coverage.

On October 21, 1994, John H. Hager of American Tobacco again wrote to Donald S. Johnston to brief him on the Proposition 188 campaign. He enclosed an analysis of Proposition 188.[109] A notable strength of Proposition 188 was low awareness of the measure, especially compared with two high-profile initiatives that were on the ballot (“three strikes,” which required long prison sentences for repeat offenders, and

anti-immigrant measures). Other strengths included support now among smokers, high-turnout groups (such as the elderly), and those who favored the initiative's youth focus. The weaknesses were, however, significant: support for the measure declined when voters were somewhat informed; AB 13 had strong support (48 percent preferred it to Proposition 188); the health groups had substantial credibility; and Philip Morris's sponsorship of the initiative was a distinct liability. The strategy for the last month of the campaign was to identify and mail to likely smoker households, exploit populist themes, and keep buying media.

American Tobacco knew something that the Coalition did not know. The California Wellness Foundation, a large California foundation, was thinking about launching a large nonpartisan voter education project to make sure that the public understood exactly what Proposition 188 meant—and who was supporting it and who was opposing it. While strictly neutral from a content perspective, this educational campaign would effectively smoke out the tobacco industry's involvement and expose its stealth strategy.

American Tobacco's analysis presented four major concerns:

  • Wellness Foundation. While the official “NO” campaign has only $90,000 cash on hand as of 9/30, the nonprofit Wellness Foundation may spend anywhere from $1 million to $3 million in “non-partisan” radio spots. …They are being quoted non-profit rates, so this would also extend the reach of their buy. While we may be able to counter a $1 million buy, an effective $3 million buy to raise awareness of 188 sponsorship virtually dooms our campaign.
  • Prop 99 ads. Even though they do not mention 188, the extent of these new ads pose[s] a real threat, especially if the NO campaign or the Wellness Foundation helps voters relate the theme of the 99 ads (lies and deceit) to the initiative.
  • Media. The media could accomplish the above connection with little difficulty.
  • C. Everett Koop. If the NO campaign has any money to put him on TV ads, we're in trouble.[109]

The tobacco industry did not have to worry about the Proposition 99 ads. Sandra Smoley, Governor Pete Wilson's secretary of health and welfare, had been one of two votes against the Sacramento County smoke-free ordinance in 1990 when she was a member of the Board of Supervisors. As secretary of health and welfare, she forbade DHS from doing any public education about AB 13, despite the fact that educating the public before such laws are implemented greatly smooths the process.


In anticipation of a major media blitz by CSSR, the Coalition laid out a strategy for utilizing paid advertising to get out its message. Nicholl produced television and radio advertisements highlighting the deceptive nature of CSSR's advertising. The Coalition ads featured former surgeon general C. Everett Koop, one of the signers of the ballot argument against Proposition 188.[116][124] But there was no money to broadcast the advertisements. With the discouraging September poll results indicating that Proposition 188 would win, the California voluntary health agencies approached their national organizations for money.

The AHA and ACS national organizations responded with substantial donations in late October, which represented a major shift in policy for these organizations. In the past they had considered measures like Proposition 188 as state matters to be handled by the state affiliates. National AHA and ACS leaders recognized that a victory for the tobacco industry in California, which had been regarded as a pioneer in tobacco control efforts nationwide, would not only have national repercussions but also help the industry pass preemptive statewide smoking regulations elsewhere.[125] The national ALA continued its past practice of not providing financial assistance to individual state campaigns,[127] but four ALA state affiliates (in Oregon, Maine, Nebraska, and Wisconsin) saw Proposition 188 as a national issue and sent a total of $32,800. The American Medical Association gave $25,000. The Kaiser Permanente health maintenance organization donated $50,000 and ran full-page newspaper advertisements opposing Proposition 188. These last-minute injections of cash allowed the Coalition to run the Koop advertisements for the last week of the campaign. The tobacco industry has long understood that local and state campaigns make an important contribution to national policy and has always treated these tobacco battles from a national perspective. The Proposition 188 campaign marked a growing, but still limited, recognition by the national organizations supporting tobacco control that state and local issues are strategically important.

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